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Spotify is Joe Rogan's publisher
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Please Do Not Let Spotify Convince You That Joe Rogan Is A Content Moderation Problem
Alright, here’s where we are in the Spotify/Joe Rogan outrage cycle. First, Neil Young pulled his music from the platform, citing the pretty much unchecked torrent of COVID misinformation on Rogan’s show. Then Joni Mitchell said she’d be pulling her music. And, lastly, Nils Lofgren said he’d pull his, as well.
Spotify responded to all of this over the weekend, announcing they’d be adding “content advisory” warnings to Rogan’s show. Rogan also responded, writing, “I’m interested in finding out what is correct, and also finding out how people come to these conclusions.” And The Verge reported on leaked messages from Spotify that show that the platform reviewed episodes of Rogan’s show and they “didn’t meet the threshold for removal.”
For what’s it’s worth, I don’t find Joe Rogan’s popularity super complex. Every single bar in Massachusetts has a dude like Rogan, who will spout absolute dog shit nonsense at anyone who will listen. It makes sense to me that, in the same way that young people have parasocial relationships with video game streamers or beauty influencers, so too would racist uncles need a virtual bar buddy. Also, America has a long tradition of elevating extremely dumb men to positions of great importance within the world of audio broadcasting.
The real issue here for me is that, in May 2020, Spotify paid $100 million to become the exclusive home for Joe Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. Spotify and Joe Rogan have what is technically a “licensing deal,” but it involves Rogan’s entire back catalog and is exclusive to Spotify. This was a controversial move at the time because Rogan’s show had already had figures like Alex Jones on many times and was, even in the early days of the pandemic, a massive node for pseudoscientific nonsense.
So Spotify can’t really claim they didn’t know what his show was about when they became the sole distributor of it. And that’s what’s key. They are Rogan’s sole distributor.
Now, as you can imagine, a public controversy this size has produced a lot of very bad takes. There are, of course, your typical right-wing crybabies tweeting that this is an example of fascist leftists censoring them. But there have also been a lot of not-insane people who seem to think this is somehow, in any way, similar to Facebook or Twitter handling COVID misinformation.
“The Spotify/Rogan thing is such a case displaced aggression — it’s like if a bunch of nutritionists got mad at Shop Rite for stocking Doritos because it’s ‘platforming junk food.’ You’re not really mad at Shop Rite, you’re mad that you can’t make people not like junk,” author Kat Rosenfield wrote.
Except that’s not true at all and the fact that some people actually think it is allows Spotify shirk their actual responsibility.
To take Rosenfield’s metaphor, this situation would actually be as if a supermarket chain announced they were the exclusive provider of Dorito’s, put Dorito’s at the front of the store, allowed Dorito’s to put any non-FDA-approved ingredient they wanted in their bags, and then acted surprised when other chip brands didn’t want to be sold at that store anymore. This is uniquely different from other instances of right-wing misinformation spreading on other platforms.
Sites like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter have all promoted unimaginably bad content over the years and most of these companies have responded by slapping meaningless warning widgets on offending content. Spotify seems to think they get to do that too. Except the difference here is that none of these platforms had exclusive contracts with the creators in question. In fact, YouTube literally banned right-wing talk show host Dan Bongino from their platform for COVID misinformation last week. And before he was outright banned, the platform repeatedly blocked his ability to monetize.
Spotify doesn’t get to just put a content warning on Rogan’s episodes and treat him like they would any other podcast because he’s not any other podcast. He’s their podcast. The Joe Rogan Experience is, in every sense that matters, a Spotify production. There might not be a Spotify rep in the room while they record, but Spotify is the only place you can hear it. So, make no mistake, if you work with or at a company like Spotify or you use a platform like Spotify — which I still do because they’ve eaten the market away to a point where there’s no real alternative (RIP Grooveshark) — there is no question as to what that company values. They’ve made it pretty clear. They made an editorial decision, just like any regular old TV station or radio broadcaster and decided that Rogan is more valuable to them than Joni Mitchell or Neil Young.
This isn’t content moderation. It isn’t censorship. It’s an editorial choice. They paid $100 million to be Joe Rogan’s publisher and this is what that entails.
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One More Spotify Thing
Wordle Vs. The App Store
Here’s a fun idea I’ve been working through: what if Wordle signifies the end on the app store stranglehold? Groups like MSCHF and Gen Z Mafia and even the various DAOs coming out of the Web3 world are all experimenting with internet things that aren’t traditional apps. Some of these involve apps — like Twitter or Discord — but they aren’t standalone things that can be downloaded from an app store. And in another, similar, avenue we also had the iOS-led Tumblr ban a few weeks ago leading many Tumblr users to start using the site again through a browser.
But Wordle, in particular, is a really fascinating case where it’s literally just a website that works the same on computer or mobile. When I do a game of Wordle in the morning I get there by googling “wordle” and clicking into the page. In fact, the first time I did Wordle I thought to myself, “surely this can’t just be a website.” It’s an extremely retro idea! Even more interesting, a few weeks ago, a guy tried to rip the game off, put it on an app store, and added a bunch of classic freemium mobile gaming elements and people freaked out. Now, obviously, a large chunk of the outrage was due to how scummy the move to rip off the game was, but, I do wonder if we won’t look back on Wordle as a real moment when internet users all kind of agreed they’d rather just use a website than download an app.
Elon Musk Inadvertently Pumped A Hitler Coin
A redditor noticed that after Elon Musk tweeted a Hitler meme, it caused the price of a Hitler-themed cryptocoin, Hitler Inu, to go up 5500%. From what I can tell, the coin was actually made in response to Musk’s tweet. The redditor who spotted this wrote, “I think this is terrible for crypto.” Uh huh, I’m with you. Why is it terrible for crypto?
“Firstly, one man can indirectly control the markets without even meaning to (at least, he didn't mean to in this case). Secondly, it is projects like this that makes the average retail investor think that crypto is a pyramid scheme/scam,” the redditor wrote. “As an asset class, crypto needs to move away from these sort of projects and focus on fundamentals etc.”
Ah, ok, I thought maybe they’d have a problem with all the Hitler stuff, but no. It’s about getting back to fundamentals. Very cool. Anyways, speaking of Hitler and crypto, here’s a massive blog post outlining the simply unbelievable amount of connections that seem to link the Bored Ape Yacht Club and neo-nazis, but, also, the guy who wrote the post is apparently, “the jilted ex-fiancé” of Azealia Banks, who recently sold their sex tape audio as an NFT. So who’s to say what’s really happening here.
And, before we leave the metaverse, this guy wants to turn colors into NFTs and charge royalties for them.
Obviously, many people think this is proof that everyone involved with NFTs is a philosophically bankrupt sociopath incapable of understanding even the most basic forms of human expression, but, as trend forecaster Ayesha Siddiqi pointed out, capitalism has already come up with this before — things like Barbie pink and UPS brown. And it’s actually a massive pain in the ass for the companies that try and copyright colors. Also, once again, even if you “owned a color” on the blockchain, you wouldn’t own the color or the copyright for it, you would just own a receipt for buying the color in a very specific online marketplace that is not legally or financially backed by anything and you would have no legal claims to your “ownership”. Though, last year, an NFT artist did successfully sell a white pixel for a bunch of money. So, once again, who’s to say what’s really going on here.
Knuckles The Echidna Learns About The Blockchain
This is actually a pretty good explainer for how NFTs work! But I do want to be clear I’m not a huge fan of the modern depiction of Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic media as being dumb. He’s meant to be a rival-turned-friend. If Sonic was Goku, Knuckles would be Piccolo, and Shadow would be Vegeta. In this essay, I will…
This is cool! I now want one of these for the whole world.
I Simply Do Not Believe The Gastonia TikTok Woman
Earlier this month, a TikTok user named @realzacharykeesee posted footage of Switzerland and labeled it “Downtown Gastonia, North Carolina”. The video was part of a bit he was doing with his followers. I went through his videos leading up to this one and I think the joke was that he was posting videos from his travels around Europe, but labeling them as various parts of North Carolina? I did a similar thing once where I pretended on Instagram to go Coachella.
Anyways, another TikTok user named Olivia Garcia saw @realzacharykeesee’s video and then went to Gastonia and decided to post a video of what the actual town looks like. Turns out Gastonia, North Carolina, is not Lautterbrunnen, Switzerland!
Garcia’s video went viral and she ended up doing an interview with CNN about the whole thing. And, in a video Garcia posted over the weekend, she doubled down, telling her followers she didn't drive to Gastonia specifically. They just took a detour because they saw the TikTok. But also, hilariously, she used the update as a way to promote her YouTube channel.
Look, this is all very funny, but I just simply do not believe her. I believe she went to Gastonia and I believe that Gastonia does not look like Lautterbrunnen, Switzerland, but I just don’t think she actually thought it would. I wish her the best on her travel influencer brand that she’s building with this.
Cool Big Guitar Video
I think I’ve featured Ichika Nito’s videos in an email before. I love them. Nito is a guitar player from Japan who used to run a fairly straightforward music channel, but then pivoted to making totally bonkers meme videos with increasingly bizarre kinds of tunings and guitars. Highly recommend checking it out.
Another Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s Pumpkin Cowboy.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***